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Dialogues on Intelligent Administration: Public Ethics and Values for Governance

04/03/2010 (dd/mm/yyyy) | Madrid


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Jordi Sevilla and José Antonio Marina. Two constructive and widely debated viewpoints on public ethics in an unprecedented dialogue on intelligent administration. A space for reflection, debate and action for change in the public administration.

"Responsibility is the price of greatness". Quoting Winston Churchill, Ángel Castiñeira, Director of the ESADE-URL Chair in LeadershipS and Democratic Governance, opened the first of a series of dialogues on intelligent administration hosted by the ESADE Alumni Public Management Club.

Mr. Castiñeira observed that responsibility should be proportional to the size of one’s power, and that good government makes both a country and its people great. In Spain, "the citizens’ state of mind has deteriorated", he said. "Unfortunately, Spain will have a hard time returning to economic greatness, but the qualitative greatness of our power, in contrast, depends solely on us and our actions", said Mr. Castiñeira. He added that we should be concerned about the state of our ethical wealth, since "ethical capital is essential to becoming a successful country".

Oscar Cortés, Vice President of the ESADE Alumni Public Management Club, then took the floor to introduce the two very special speakers: Jordi Sevilla, Senior Adviser at PricewaterhouseCoopers and former Spanish Minister of Public Administration, and the philosopher, essayist and educator José Antonio Marina. Moderated by Antonio Díaz, Director of Studies, Strategy and Training at the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP), the debate between the two speakers took the form of a question-and-answer session. Questions were posed by both the moderator and the audience members.

Distrustful citizens 

Mr. Sevilla congratulated ESADE for being “brave¿ enough to put the words "administration" and "intelligent" in the same sentence. Taking note of the audacity involved, he added: "This is the challenge, and I think it is possible".

"I was able to pass the Civil Servants’ Statute because I didn’t know it was impossible", said Mr. Sevilla, noting that this achievement represented an attitude that, in his view, is all too uncommon: "Those in power are responsible for adapting the administration". This attitude, he said, often comes up against a tacit agreement within the administration: "I act like I don’t know how you operate, and you act like you operate under the guidelines I provide". Focusing on the example of the Dependency Law, Mr. Sevilla observed that the main problem with laws is not passing them but rather applying them, and he characterised this issue as a problem of adaptation within the administration.

"Politics is trust, because you ask people to trust you", said Mr. Sevilla. "But trust has to be earned, and in Spain there is much room for improvement in this regard". By way of example, he cited the Marbella affair, which, he said, made everyone wonder: Why didn’t anybody do anything about it sooner? "There’s a feeling of distrust, that there’s something going on in the background", he said. In addition, politicians "resist common sense", Mr. Sevilla said. He explained that there is a growing gap between what citizens want and what politicians do, and this hurts credibility. For example, politicians are turning their backs on the citizens’ desire to reach an agreement capable of putting the country back on the right track.

Ethics and corruption

Mr. Marina began his talk by noting: "When we talk about ethics, we’re not talking about window dressing; we’re talking about our only solution". Our entire system, he explained, is set up in such a way that an ethical framework is essential in order for it to function properly. It is possible to live unethically in the short term, but in the long term this is impossible – and this, according to Mr. Marina, is why societies fail. Thus, ethics only works if it is applied in the long term by society as a whole. When someone cuts corners on ethics, he explained, somebody else always pays the price.

"Right now, there is widespread distrust towards politicians in all of the world’s democratic systems; it’s not just Spain", he said, adding that the system of power itself has been completely discredited. Trust is earned when we keep our promises, he explained, and corruption emerges as soon as there is widespread tolerance of the failure to keep promises. "Spain’s tolerance of corruption is very serious, and the worst part is that we all tend to collaborate to some extent", he said. "Democracies foster a sort of political conformability".

"Ethics means working together towards the ideal life that we want", said Mr. Marina. For many centuries, he explained, ethics and religion went hand in hand, and when religion goes out of fashion it takes ethics with it. "Somehow we must reconstruct a secular ethical discourse, because that is the only thing that can be built upon the basic unit of coexistence".

Professional administration: pro or con?

Control and penalty mechanisms, good governance codes, barriers between politics and the administration, representation systems, efficacy and efficiency... These were just some of the many topics addressed by both speakers, with the active participation of audience members armed with pressing questions.

One of the topics that generated the most debate was the professionalisation of the public administration. Mr. Sevilla declared: "I don’t believe in the professional administration, because it implies that our civil servants are dumb and don’t have ideas of their own". He insisted that the idea does not frighten him, "provided that we very clearly understand at what levels decisions are being made and, especially, what democratic mechanisms are controlling those decisions".

Mr. Marina suggested that the criteria of efficacy and efficiency should be applied to bring the public administration down to the necessary size. "Decisions about jobs in the administration cannot be made politically; they have to be made technically", he said. "Therefore, I think the administration should be professional, and that it should be governed by the criteria of efficacy and efficiency". Mr. Sevilla replied that it is "impossible to categorically separate the technical staff from the politicians". 




The ESADE Alumni Public Management Club invites you to this session that will discuss the ethics and values in public governance.

The Spanish citizenry’s indifference regarding public matters has been fuelled by the numerous cases of corruption that have entangled the country’s political parties and institutions. In fact, recent polls carried out by the Spanish Centre for Sociological Studies have found that corruption ranks third among citizen concerns, after unemployment and the economic crisis. Public ethics and models for good governance and administration in democratic societies are issues at the forefront of public debate. 

From the viewpoint of intelligent public management, it is essential to develop both theoretical approaches and models, on the one hand, and practical tools that can improve the democratic quality of major institutions, on the other. It is also imperative that we develop governance models that are more transparent and inspire citizens’ trust.


Jordi Sevilla
, Senior Consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers and former Minister of Public Administrations (2004-2007)

José Antonio Marina
, philosopher, essayist and teacher

Antonio Díaz
(FGAP ‘93), Director of Studies, Strategy and Training at the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP)

Óscar Cortés
(FGAP ‘07), Vice President of the ESADE Alumni Public Management Club

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